Is your website ADA or WCAG compliant? If not, you could face legal difficulties. Broadly speaking, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against individuals with certain disabilities in various contexts such as employment, education, transportation, access to buildings, and even telecommunications. An often-overlooked subject of the ADA compliance is the Internet.
ADA & The Internet
Since the ADA was passed in 1990, the Internet has become essential to modern life. Unfortunately, the government has not kept pace when it comes to issuing guidance for creating websites that are ADA compliant, particularly for people who are blind or visually impaired. Currently, there are virtually no regulations from any administrative agencies on this topic.
Potential Legal Ramifications of Non-Compliance
Despite the lack of clear guidance, businesses can still face consequences if their websites are not accessible to people who are disabled. For example, a case is currently being litigated in Pennsylvania where the plaintiff, an individual who is legally blind, is suing an automobile dealer alleging the dealer’s website violates the ADA because it is not properly accessible to people who are visually impaired. The defendant auto dealership filed a motion to dismiss, which was denied by the Court. The dealership will now have to reach a settlement with the plaintiff or incur more litigation costs in a case that exemplifies a growing trend of similar class-action cases being filed throughout the country.
Consequences for companies and other institutions found to violate the ADA range from attorneys’ fees to, in extreme circumstances, punitive damages. Perhaps more harmful is the added sting of negative publicity and the reputational damage that may follow.
Use WCAG Guidelines As a Guide
Regardless of the federal government’s lack of clear, uniform authority outlining when a website is or is not ADA compliant, some measures exist that can be proactively taken. For instance, federal government agencies and their contractors must comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). These guidelines were developed by individuals and organizations around the world, with a goal of providing a single shared standard for web content accessibility that meets the needs of individuals, organizations, and governments internationally. Because these guidelines must be adhered to at the federal level, they are generally regarded as a safe proxy until more targeted legal guidance is issued for private businesses.
Good Faith Efforts at Compliance
Similar to physical locations, the emerging cases alleging ADA discrimination against defendants’ websites have a recurring theme: reasonable accessibility. Some other examples of good-faith efforts that businesses and administrators can undertake with their website developers to facilitate reasonable accessibility for people with disabilities may include:
- Closed Captioning for videos
- Making design improvements such as sizing, colors, contrasts, saturation, and fonts, making the website easier to navigate and view
- Enabling Keyboard Navigation for users with motor impairments
- Confirming the website is compatible with external screen reader, voice over, and narrator software
Businesses must be cognizant of the barriers their websites may create for people with disabilities. If you are concerned about compliance or receive a notice about not being compliant, contact one of our Corporate Business & Banking attorneys for assistance.